and the Image
2001 MMLA Convention
|In his 1898 essay 'The Reunion of Britain and America,' Andrew
Carnegie references William Cowper's metaphor of shared blood to
claim that the Atlantic is no longer a barrier between the two countries
and their populations:
The difference of land and water lying between people has hitherto been great, and, in the words of the poet, [. .] we can say that
Make enemies of nations, who else,
Like kindred drops, been mingled into one."
This is quite true of the past; but oceans no longer constitute barriers between nations. These already furnish the cheapest of all modes of communciations between men.1
Both Cowper and Carnegie desire that blood brotherhood might transcend nation. For Cowper, nations are strangely liquid, and the ocean solid: a barrier that keeps the blood of nations from naturally amalgamating. But, Carnegie triumphantly declares, the development of communication technologies means that the nineteenth-century ocean has become a channel - a web of channels -that will actually facilitate the transnational mingling of kindred drops. The Atlantic is now "the very agency which brings them so close and will ultimately bind them together."2 In other words, 'kindred drops' - which, as I will show, must always be Anglo-Saxon -- can now correspond with each other through the vein-like 'All Red Routes' - the postal routes and telegraph lines that spanned the globe.3 Through the medium of postal networks, blood, for Carnegie and other Victorian writers, flows swifter than water.
Postal networks not only materially enabled cross-national communication, they also symbolised it. Writing in the periodical Nineteenth Century at the end of the nineteenth century, Conservative MP J.Henniker Heaton declares that under Britain's newly-implemented Imperial Penny Postage scheme "The postage-stamp would become the symbol of Imperial unity, nay, more, the symbol of universal Anglo-Saxon brotherhood."4 It was a truth widely acknowledged across the course of the nineteenth-century that the Victorian "revolution in communications [. . .] brought the colonies much nearer" to the mother country5 and that the unity engendered by and through the 'All Red Routes' had great Imperial utility.6 Heaton suggests, however, that "universal Anglo-Saxon brotherhood" was different from and "more" desirable than "Imperial unity." In his vision of a community bound by postal communication, racial fraternity trumps colonial collectivity.7 But his particular construction of fraternity is riven by a provocative contradiction: he conflates "universalism" with racial provincialism. In this article, I explore how, for Doyle and others, America provided the resolution to this contradiction and show the special place that America, imagined as the home of Britons' white blood-relatives, held in this trope of "universal brotherhood."
Doyle believed that national difference should be abandoned in favour of racial unity and that England and America should become one nation. This was by no means an eccentricity on his part: many shared his views. He was one of many avid supporters of a movement that clamoured for Anglo-American Reunion and the federation of the Anglo-Saxon race.8 "The tendency of the age," Carnegie summed it up, "is towards consolidation."9 Though Carnegie wrote this in 1898, the sentiment had been brewing since the late 1840s, when American philanthropist Elihu Burritt had founded League of Universal Brotherhood that proclaimed the aim "TO MAKE HOME EVERYWHERE AND ALL NATIONS NEIGHBOURS." Making home everywhere, for Burritt and his League, involved rejecting nationalism and embracing a 'universal brotherhood' that was in fact Anglo-Saxon. Burritt campaigned vigorously against the evils of thinking nationally: and thus echoed Robert Knox who asked his readers to 'Forget for a time the word nation.'10 His sentiments appealed greatly to Liberal, 'Little Englander' anti-imperialists. But Burritt's resultant emphasis on race and Anglo-Saxonism was easily adopted by later-century pro-Imperialist jingoists. Reunion sentiment had reached such a popular high in 1898 that Pears Soap ran an advertisement in Harper's Weekly that showed conjoined American and British flags with the caption 'Pear's Soap and an Anglo-American Alliance would Improve the Complexion of the Universe.'11 This slogan about 'complexion' succinctly demonstrates the way in which the Reunion impulse fuelled and was fuelled by a concern about white skin. Burritt's League and much early reunion rhetoric conflated 'Anglo-American' and the 'Universe,' or Anglo-American brotherhood with universal brotherhood. They campaigned under the biblical mandate that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts xvii:26), at the same time they designated Americans and Britons as the only members of this brotherhood. This advertisement gives a clearer sense of Anglo-American reunion as a defense against 'color.' Together, soap and reunionists will 'improve,' the overall complexion of the world.
Another improver, Cecil Rhodes, ensured there would be a living
legacy of reunion sentiment through his scholarships funding American
students' study in England. W.T.Stead, himself an avid campaigner
for Anglo-American reunion, describes in his book-length edition
of Cecil Rhodes' last will and testament how Rhodes' possessed the
most 'sublime conception of the essential unity of the race.' This
unity was based not on land and its dominion, but on the alliance
For many pro-reunion writers, the American War of Independence was actually proof positive of the strength of the blood-ties between Americans and Britons. Andrew Carnegie claimed that: 'There is no British statesman who does not feel that if the Britons in America had not resisted taxation without representation, and fought out the issue to the end, they would have been false to the blood in their veins.'13
Under the logic of this rhetoric, it was the very severance of nation from nation that consolidated racial unity. This logic illustrates what Homi Babha has pithily called "dissemiNation."14 Babha links processes of splitting and diffusion to fictions of national unification, pointing out that the emergence of the "later phase of the modern nation," in the mid-nineteenth century, coincided with "one of the most sustained periods of mass migration within the west, and colonial expansion in the east" (291). In a seeming paradox, narratives of nation aggregated around the dispersal of its people. 'Recovering' America at the end of the nineteenth century was an essential part of the project of imagining a white Anglo-Saxon diaspora that was so fluid and perpetual that it no longer needed a home turf. For many, it was the ultimate and most perfect form of imperialism: patriotism was divorced from land and nationalism was signed up to the 'cause' of internationalism and universal brotherhood. Both Rhodes and Doyle even asserted that in the name of Anglo-Saxon unity they would advocate renouncing queen and country to have everyone become Americans. W.T.Stead claimed that 'in his later years' Rhodes 'expressed to me his unhesitating readiness to accept the reunion of the race under the Stars and Stripes if it could not be obtained in any other way'.15 National formations dissolve under the imperative of blood brotherhood, and England's 'daughter' can subsume the mother country because the same blood runs in her veins.
In Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story 'A Study in Scarlet' (1881), we are introduced to our narrator, Dr John H.Watson, before we meet the great Holmes himself. Watson opens the tale by detailing his record of service in the colonial Afghan campaigns, and then memorably describes that because he had "neither kith nor kin in England [. . . ]I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained."16 Laura Otis has recently noted that Doyle thus establishes both London and Watson as imperial bodies "under siege."17 Watson's metaphor is certainly one of invasion: the capital is a "pool," into which contaminated colonial waterways flow and introduce sepsis. And Watson's own body has also been invaded: a Jezail bullet has pierced the soldier-surgeon's shoulder, leaving him with a shattered bone, a grazed artery and, most damagingly, "shaken nerves" (19).
Bones, arteries, nerves: these are the body's infrastructures: its support and network systems. Watson comes to London, with its drains and sewers figuring the Thames as part of an empire-wide network of waterways, because his physiological networks are damaged and his familial networks, of "kith and kin," have disintegrated. Both Watson and London look like imperial nerve centres suffering from the degenerating and exhausting effects of serving the colonies. A Study in Scarlet is not, however, a story of thieving Sikhs, Tongan murderers, "coolie diseases" or Indian swamp adders. These come later in the Holmes canon. Rather, it is a tale about America and Americans. America underwrites the later fictions about blow-pipes, diseases and adders and thus adds a twist to critical readings which suggest that late-century writers like Doyle wrote against the fear that Britain's colonial children could strike back, violate and infect them.18 America, figured as the first and white colony, provides a possible antidote to the degradations of the second, predominantly non-white empire.19 Doyle turned to the crown jewel of Britain's First Empire, America, in order to reclaim a white confederacy and restabilise their imperial position. As we examine themes of empire in the Holmes canon, we must recognise that Doyle appeals to an imperial bond between America and Britain in order to consolidate a white brotherhood that can resist attack and the degenerating effects of the Second Empire.20
Both in his Holmes stories and other writings, Doyle consistently
applied a language of kinship to relations between America and England.
In an interview with the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette (1894), Doyle
asserted that "There is no subject on which I take so keen
an interest" as "warmer friendship between the two great
nations of the English-speaking race [. . .]Neither nation recognizes
as it ought the kinship of the other."21 Doyle saw America
as a country that had come of age and was on the point of forming
international alliances. He publicly and repeatedly exhorted America
to remember that Great Britain was its "own kin" and that
the British would be America's only "natural friend" in
war. He likewise went on record in Britain, attacking journalists'
hostility towards the United States, reminding Britons of America's
accomplishments. It had worked hard, he said, to expand; "peopling"
itself and "opening out"22 and he thought America should
be praised especially for "the filling up of the great West."23
Doyle explicitly likens American westward expansion with Britain's
acquisition of colonies and the way in which Britain "has pegged
out claims for the English-speaking race all over the globe, how
she brought civilization to so many dark places, and how she has
stood for freedom all through the history of Europe." The English
language, civilization, freedom and - crucially - the dissemination
of these boons are, for Doyle, values common to both countries.
He believed that:
In this passage we can see that Doyle's plans for Anglo-American reunion were fuelled by a rhetorical imperative of racial unity. If the two countries allow national difference to stand in the way of racial brotherhood, he claims, then a more unified people could dominate. Goldwin Smith had used that same strange word, 'compact,' to define a nation: 'When there is a solid mass of people of one race inhabiting a compact territory, with a language, religion, character, laws, tendencies, aspirations and sentiments of its own, there is de facto a nation.'25 (quoted by Stead, 106-7) Smith's definition makes it quite clear that a 'compact' people is one that is 'not sprawling, scattered or diffuse,' as the OED glosses the word. They are rather racially and geographically bound together, more: their race and geography correspond to each other. And this, I think, is how Doyle uses the word, too: the Russian population is compact because it inhabits Russia, the Chinese because they occupy China. Doyle implies that it is time for the imperialist call to 'disseminate,' which has resulted in exhaustion and decay, to now become a call to 'consolidate.' In turning attention from Britain's Second Empire to its first, Doyle's network metaphor shifts from being one of 'cesspools' and 'drains' to one of arteries and veins. An Anglo-American 'pooling' of blood and interest can revitalise that contaminated 'pool' of which Watson speaks in 'A Study in Scarlet'.26
The case at the centre of 'A Study in Scarlet' involves the mysterious
deaths of two Americans in London. It transpires that the two dead
men are Mormons and that their murderer, a man called Jefferson
Hope, had killed them in vengeance for having carried away his betrothed.
Half way through the narrative, just as Holmes has handcuffed his
suspect, Doyle breaks off Watson's first-person narrative of Holmes
and London, handing the story over to an omniscient narrator who
traces the roots of the mystery, tracking the American characters'
involvement in westward Mormon migration across America and the
battle between the Mormons and the non-Mormon Jefferson over his
beloved. This narrative split shuttles the reader from 1878 London
to the American West of 1847. It is a striking, mid-story shift
of time, narration and nation and it is this trans-Atlantic, split-screen
quality to the story that has been off-putting to many twentieth-century
critics. Like many of these critics, Jacqueline Jaffe identifies
the geographical with generic discontinuity:
Jaffe makes clear differentiations between geographies and genres and she sees each as having a distinctly national stamp. Her vivid descriptions identify each contrasting landscape with what she sees as contrasting genres: the exposed American landscape is built for the "adventure" story, while the shadowy English streets breed the "detective" story. What is lacking, Jaffe concludes, is passage or 'transition' between both lands and genres.
Doyle, however, had a distinctly opposite view about essentialising relationships between regions and literary form. In an interview printed in Ladies Home Journal in 1895, Doyle warned readers of the tendency in England towards 'local fiction' and laments the way in which the United Kingdom was becoming 'divided up' through new, regional fiction writing. 'It looks as if,' he complained, 'the map of literature were being broken up into counties[. . .] it should be borne in mind that the emphasis must be laid not on the local, but on the universal elements, and it will be a great mistake to emphasize the sectional tendency as opposed to the national tendency.' Although his map metaphor is geographical, the 'tendencies' of which he speaks are racial: though he speaks of 'nation' here, later in the interview he talks of needing to 'forget the old-time hostilities' between England and America. The spectre of a divided, 'sectional' England raises for Doyle the ghost of the severance between the British and the Americans. He exhorts both countries to reject discreet nationalism and embrace universal brotherhood and he sees shared literature and culture as a way towards this destiny: 'The community of interest and of art which literature is constantly fostering must tend insensibly [. .] to bring the two races together.'
As a child Doyle had voraciously consumed American fiction and although he didn't visit the States until late in life, he felt fused to an American landscape: he 'knew the Rockies like my own back garden[ . .] It was an everyday emergency to have to set the prairie on fire in front of me in order to escape from the fire behind.'28 As an adult, Doyle looked back to a pre-Revolution America when the Rockies were Britain's back garden and championed a future reunification. For Doyle, the arid, sunbaked plains of Utah were contiguous with gaslit, foggy London. The transition between Great Britain and America that Jaffe dismisses as unviable was actually a very real possibility to Doyle and others. 'I believe,' Doyle concludes in the interview, 'in the future supremacy of the English-speaking races.' 29 Under this logic, national borders - like the Atlantic for Carnegie - dissolve into an irrelevance.
The blood referenced in the title 'A Study in Scarlet' thus takes on significance beyond that of murder. The very first time that Dr Watson and his readers ever meet Sherlock Holmes, Holmes is making what he calls "the most practical medico-legal discovery for years . . an infallible test for blood stains." He demonstrates it for Watson, by adding a drop of his own blood to a litre of water; "You perceive," he says, " that the resulting mixture has the appearance of pure water. The proportion of blood cannot be more than one in a million." The chemicals he throws into the seemingly pure water, however, stain the liquid, precipitate "a brownish dust" and disclose the presence of the blood corpuscles. A delighted Holmes explains that unlike other tests for blood, his new test is reliable "whether the blood is old or new." In fact, as the story progresses, we see that the "old blood" of Britain and the "new blood" of America are, on both a rhetorical and chemical level, indistinguishable.30 The murderer, Jefferson Hope, trusts that because he and his two victims are Americans, his deeds and motives will be invisible in the metropolis of the 'old country'. Hope believes that he can "vanish in an instant among the four million inhabitants of this great city" just like the single drop of blood in the million particles of water.31 He has not bargained, however, for Holmes, who Watson dubs a "bloodhound" (36) and who specializes in reading that which seems invisible. It is immaterial if the blood is old or new: Holmes distills Hope out of the streets of London just as swiftly as he revealed the haemoglobin in the water.
If a combination of Holmes and London defeat Jefferson Hope, is this not Doyle asserting British supremacy, rather than urging unity? Isn't Jefferson Hope, as Philip Shreffler succinctly put its, 'the very image of the American frontier.'?32 He seems to be stamped through and through with nationality: his first name invokes Thomas Jefferson, and his last is suggestive of the promise and vitality that Doyle believed this new nation held. He has spent his life in America as a hunter, scout, trapper, prospector and ranchman; his lexicon is that of wild animals and land formations, and he is repeatedly described as 'savage,' 'wild' and 'fierce.' Does this not fundamentally set him apart from Holmes and the civilization of 221B Baker Street? Holmes is, however, notoriously uncouth; the first thing Watson learns of him is that he has been known to beat his dissection subjects with a stick (17). And rather than representing an establishment, he is an 'eccentric' who has 'amassed a lot of out-of-the-way knowledge.' (16). Like Hope, Holmes is a hunter and tracker who can deduce events from prints in the earth or a pile of ashes.33 The edge that Holmes has over Hope is his command of communication systems; he goes straight from the scene of the crime to 'the nearest telegraph office' (32). It is a telegram that confirms Hope's name and identity and that allows Holmes to send his Baker Street Irregulars in search of him. Hope is too unworldly, too New Worldly, to understand how the network systems of civilization can be used to track him down. His assumption that he could not be traced between America and Britain is a fatal mistake. For Holmes, who "has never been known to write where a telegram would serve"34 the Atlantic was not such a leap. All it takes from Holmes is a single telegram to America to determine Hope's identity. Holmes' ascendancy over Hope is not narrated as a nationalised triumph, but as an assertion of his superior knowledge of the connection between America and Britain. Hope's belief that the city and the transatlantic divide will conceal him shows that he misunderstands the reach of both local and international information networks.
And thus lines of narrative, blood and communication technologies
converge. Holmes deduces a single 'chain of logical sequences.'
Doyle looks to an Anglo-Saxon blood-line that traversed the Atlantic.
Holmes wraps up this case by corresponding across trans-Atlantic
ocean telegraph cables. A Study in Scarlet was originally titled
A Tangled Skein, an echo of Holmes' reference in the story to 'The
scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of
life' (36). A skein is a network and Holmes' pursues the scarlet
thread through the very channels of communication that were known
as 'All Red Routes.' The one concrete political goal for which Elihu
Burritt's League of Universal Brotherhood had campaigned vigorously
was improved trans-atlantic postal communication. From the Imperial
Conference of 1887 onwards, pressure was stepped up by those who
believed that improved communication lines were critical to England
maintaining an imperial world profile. Conservative MP J.Henniker
Heaton was one of many who used the telegraph line as a metaphor
for the bloodlines that fretted a white diaspora:
Once again the imagery suggests the shoring up of defenses:
Heaton vividly likens the vibrations of the slender wires buried beneath the Atlantic with the Anglo-Saxon nerves and arteries that join the people of two nations, and make them in sympathy with each other. Both, he asserts, are the red routes to brotherhood. And this transnational white brotherhood, he claims, erases fears about loss of imperial power and dominion. Holmes tracked Jefferson Hope's identity down via the red route of a telegraph cable, but it is the other 'red route' that ultimately delivers punishment to the American murderer. Jefferson Hope does not die at the end of the rope of British justice, but dies as the result of an aortic aneurysm. An aneurysm, as Doyle the doctor would well have known, is the blockage and rupture of an artery: a failure of the blood circulation. If blood 'will out' across national borders, it also metes out justice without the help of a postal or juridical structure. Doyle offers white brotherhood as an invigorating alternative to the networks of nation, law and an imperialism made precarious by the potential of invasion and degeneration through its own structures.